Blood Cells tells the story of a man (Barry Ward) who has been living a half life since running away from his family ten years ago. He keeps many relationships but doesn’t commit to them, instead he wanders from place to place like a passive and passionless ghost. He lives in the past and consequently dates and hangs around with women who are easily ten years younger than him. He even finds himself drunkenly attending a 17 year old’s birthday party. However it’s only when the pressure mounts that the thinly veiled cracks begin to show and his long suppressed emotional turmoil comes boiling back to the surface.
The film comes with all the expected art-house trappings of slow-motion shots, an often bleakly painted portrayal of Britain and a narrative which prefers to quietly tell its story at its own leisure. This isn’t misery-porn though, there is a strong ray of hope that runs throughout the film and which is most often embodied by Barry Ward’s performance. Despite his character’s many trials and tribulations which include alcoholism Ward makes sure that we never lose faith in the figure before us, and never do we doubt that he is inherently a good man. This is a dream gig for an actor like Barry Ward who clearly has a lot of talent and yet hasn’t been truly discovered yet, despite holding the lead role in Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall. He is given a chance here to really impress and he manages to do so by playing the role with restraint, commitment and by managing to communicate vast swathes of emotion and character through gestures and visual clues. The greatest problem with Blood Cells is that despite having a strong storyline, it doesn’t quite hit the right notes to give us the necessary emotional wallop. Frustratingly it’s only very slightly misjudged which makes its absence both more keenly felt and harder to criticise. It’s not that I have a problem with the slowly revealed storyline although I imagine that some might, but its just that after such a build up we need to have the film’s emotional crescendo hit us a little harder and a little louder in order to justify all that came before. It doesn’t miss it by much, and you can feel the passion and effort everyone involved is putting in, but the fact of the matter is that it leaves you a little cold come the final credits.
That criticism aside this is a consistently engaging social document that is as concerned with telling a personal story of struggle as it is highlighting some of the marginalised areas and people around the country. Cinematographer David Procter roots out the beauty in every scene; ensuring that despite contemporary Britain often being pretty grey in Blood Cells, it still retains a certain visual power. These elements come together with some very naturalistic performances and an effective score, so it’s a shame then that it falls a little short of its potential. However it’s a strong debut feature film and is certainly worth watching for both its quietly powerful script and Ward’s lead performance.
What is the film’s greatest strength? Barry Ward really delivers here and mines the script for all it’s worth.
Its greatest weakness? It doesn’t completely hit home as hard as it should.
Would I see it again? Yes, this isn’t the kind of film you often feel like watching but I’ll sit down with it again some day.
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